It’s summertime and the scent of possibility is in the air again. Young people in their early thirties, who have been out in the workforce for a few years, are starting to think about their next move. Many with energy, ambition and a penchant for practicality will consider doing an MBA. “It will open doors” they explain, not entirely sure which doors they actually want to enter. They will be looking for a program that gives them an “edge,” “connections,” a “solid base in business knowledge.” But will the MBA programs they encounter really prepare them for a successful management career in global business?
Traditionally, MBA programs offer core courses in the functional disciplines of business management – finance, marketing, strategy, etc. Using lectures and case-based methodologies, these programs provide students with the basic building blocks of business.
In its best incarnation, this classic approach provides students with a rich understanding of the global business environment. But in order to succeed in management, students need to understand more than just the playing field. No less important is what they bring to the equation.
By learning about their individual leadership styles – their key strengths and development needs – students can be better positioned to leverage their talents and address their blind spots so they can step into leadership roles more effectively, creatively and responsibly. The traditional approach assumes that if students are armed with knowledge, they’ll make more informed decisions as managers and therefore lead more effectively. If only life were so simple.
Sadly, the business cemetery is replete with brilliant strategies and innovative ideas that never saw the light of day because they got buried under the messy dynamics that often constitute organizational life. The reality is that organizational decision-making and execution often hinges on the covert dynamics through which power and authority play out in organizational matrices.
Acknowledging this, some programs now tote courses on leadership. They teach the latest theories and pepper their lectures with quotes from best-sellers that explain how the art of managing ought to be done. There is only one problem with this approach: It doesn’t work.
Teaching students theories about leadership will not make them better leaders, any more than teaching someone the theory of bike-riding will make them a great biker.
But if leadership cannot be taught, it can be cultivated. Not by teaching theories or offering “tips,” but by doing the hard work of meeting students where they are. By encouraging students to reflect upon the ways their personal history, idiosyncrasies, and aspirations impact their perceptions, behaviors and decisions, MBA programs can better equip them to make the demanding judgment calls expected of modern managers.
While most MBA programs in Israel until now have not viewed this kind of learning as falling within their educational purview, numerous leading business schools around the world (including INSEAD, IMD, Harvard and Chicago Booth) have long integrated this more clinical approach to leadership development into their pedagogy. Unfortunately, Israeli MBA programs have been slow to follow their example.
Jack Welsh, the former CEO of GE, is known to have once said that “when the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is in sight.”
We would be wise to heed his warning.